At the Water's Edge
"I'm sorry, Annela," Oskar said, sounding anything but apologetic. He sat in his easychair, eyeing first his cigar and then his daughter. "But you can't come back home. You're a grown woman now."
"It would be temporary," Annela said from the couch, trying to convince him. "Just until I could find another place to stay. I'd be on my own again before you knew it."
His right eyebrow arched. "You don't even have a job."
Annela pursed her lips together tightly. They had been over this before. She had been laid off from her intern position at Nokia three weeks ago. With the economy in a depression, jobs were hard to find, but she was looking. "I'll find a job. Soon. If you like, I can pay rent while I'm here. I've still got some savings in the bank."
Oskar raised both eyebrows. "If you have money for rent, why do you need to move here? Why don't you stay at your apartment with Tommi?" A look of comprehension dawned on him.
"Unless the two of you aren't getting along." He smiled with amusement. "What did you do? It must have been pretty bad if you've upset him while he's out of the country."
Annela rubbed her forehead with one hand. She reached out to touch his knee, then pulled back. "Father, please. This has nothing to do with Tommi. He doesn't know I'm leaving yet." Tommi had been in Stockholm setting up a new location for his restaurant for the past three weeks. He was supposed to have been gone for another week, but surprised her with a phone call that morning saying they finished early and he would return today. Annela had thought she'd have another week to get this all settled.
Oskar leaned forward and pushed his cigar into the ashtray on the coffee table beside him. Clasping his hands together, he said, "All right. Let's get to the point then. If this isn't about you and Tommi, what is it about?"
Annela swallowed hard. Of course she would have to tell him, but she had nursed a little hope that she could avoid it for a time. "I've decided . . ." Her voice was scarcely audible.
"Speak up, girl. You've decided what?" His voice rose a notch.
Annela glanced at her father, then back at her hands. She held onto the handle of her purse a bit tighter, knowing her father's tone all too well. The same panic she'd felt a thousand times as a child washed over her, and her heart pounded in her throat.
"I can't live with Tommi anymore because . . . because he's not ready to get married and . . . I'm going to be baptized."
"You're going to what?"
Annela spoke a little louder. "I'm going to be baptized, sir. Become a Mormon."
He stood and yanked at Annela's arm to pull her up too. He raised a hand, and Annela flinched, expecting to be struck as her mother had been so often.
"Oskar, don't!" The plea came from his wife, Helena, who had just entered the room.
He whirled around to face her. "This is none of your business, woman! You stay out of it." He turned back to Annela, face bloodshot with fury. He pointed his finger at her, jabbing the air for emphasis. "I refuse to live with a Mormon. The second a drop of baptismal water gets on you, you are dead to me."
Annela steeled herself. "Father, this is something that will make me happy. Don't you want happiness for your own daughter?"
He shook his head back and forth, the veins in his neck popping out. Annela took a step back, nearly tripping on the couch behind her.
"No child of mine would join up with those pagans." He didn't yell. But his voice was filled with such venom that her knees shook.
The lock on the apartment door turned, and sixteen-year-old Kirsti came inside. "I'm home," she said, tossing her book bag onto the floor. She unzipped her jacket, then paused when she recognized the tension in the room. "What's going on?"
"Your sister has decided to leave our family," their father said, looking Annela straight in the eyes.
"Not really," Helena added quietly. "She's trying to live by a new set of values."
"You're defending the little tramp?" he bellowed. Helena clutched the door frame as he went on.
"As if our values are somehow inferior? As if we're not good enough for her?"
Kirsti sat on the back of the couch and watched. Annela envied her sister's calm. Kirsti could do no wrong in their father's eyes. It didn't matter what she said or did, so she had no need to worry. "Let me guess," she said to Annela, then popped a piece of gum into her mouth. "You're going to be a Mormon."
"I don't want that word ever spoken in this house again!" Oskar grabbed Annela by the arm so tightly she choked out a cry. The smirk on Kirsti's face evaporated. He dragged Annela to the front door, opened it, and shoved her out of the apartment. "Get out." He slammed the door in her face, sending vibrations and hollow echoes bouncing off the apartment building walls.
Annela took a deep breath to stop the shaking in her body. She gripped the handrail and headed down the stairs.
Before she reached the outer doors she knew exactly where she was headed. Not back to her apartment. She glanced at her watch. Tommi's plane had landed over an hour ago, so he would be back home any minute. She was grateful that he'd insisted she not change her schedule to meet him there, since it was on such short notice. Instead of going home she decided to go to the beach for refuge.
She hadn't taken more than two steps outside before the crisp wind of the Finnish spring hit her. Her coat was in her parents' apartment, and she couldn't very well return to retrieve it. At least she had been holding her purse when her father exploded. She reached into it and turned off her cell phone. Tommi might try to call when he got in, wondering where she was, but she needed time alone right now. Even for a few minutes.
After that she'd call him and take the bus back to the apartment. She'd make his favorite dinner, then tell him she was moving out. But to where? She still wished she could have had the details figured out before giving him the news.
Tommi would be upset when she told him—understandably. But they both knew he wasn't ready to commit to marriage, and since she was determined to be baptized, there was no other option but to leave. It had been a blessing that Tommi hadn't been around since her decision to be baptized almost two weeks ago.
She would have to sleep on the couch for tonight. Then she would go to a hotel. She could afford a few nights at one, probably not long enough to find a new apartment. But she would cross that bridge when she had to. She harbored the hope that Tommi would continue taking the discussions when he returned. He missed the first one, but had been there for the next two. Maybe if he saw the missionaries again he would get baptized and want to get married. But in the meantime . . .
Annela walked down the hill and crossed the street at the light, then headed south down the long road, the gutters not yet cleared of the small gravel used to give icy streets traction in winter. A few blocks farther, she left the road on the left and went through some apartment buildings, where she came to the beginning of the beach path. Another kilometer along it and she would be at her favorite spot of the shore. As she walked along the narrow dirt walkway, long grasses brushing against her legs, her father's words repeated themselves like a pounding headache.
She hugged herself as if it would make up for all the hugs her father had never given her. The ocean was on her right, a wooded area on her left so thick the apartment buildings and homes beyond them weren't visible. Annela could almost believe she was in the country, kilometers away from the bustle of Helsinki. She rounded the shore until she came to the large stone protrusion that, as a child, she had named "Elephant Rock." It looked like an elephant's head with wide ears and a short trunk winding toward the sea.
Annela walked onto the rock and sat just above the point where one of the elephant's eyes met the icy ocean. The wind tousled her hair and blew strands of it into her eyes. Although it was early April, winter had yet to give up its hold, and the ocean hadn't yet melted. Because of the ice there was no gentle lap of waves at her feet, and she knew it might be another month before she'd hear that again.
She wondered where she would be living next, whether she'd even be close enough to visit her Elephant Rock on any regular basis. When she moved, she might not belong to the Marjaniemi Ward anymore, either. It had been a blessing to live only a ten-minute walk from the chapel, when so many others had to travel much farther. She lowered her head, and a single tear slipped down her cheek. Annela sniffed and wiped it away with disdain.
It wasn't as if this was the first time her father had turned her away. After a lifetime of insult and criticism, she should have been immune to her father's outbursts, she reasoned. Because of him, home had rarely been a place of comfort. But somehow his refusing to let her return to the only home she had ever known was worse. It pierced her deeper than she would have expected it to.
What made him react so harshly to her today? Was he upset over her change in faith? It wasn't as if her father were particularly devout Lutheran. He rarely attended church. And he hadn't come to the Easter service in years, coming to last year's Christmas service only after weeks of her mother's pleading.
No, it wasn't that Annela was leaving their church. It was that she was joining the Mormons. The fact that Annela had given her parents' names to the missionaries as a referral likely didn't help matters. Her father had dismissed them with orders to never return.
Annela remembered her father's voice over the telephone when he told her about sending the missionaries away. "I know they're handsome and American," he had said. "But that doesn't mean you have to fawn all over them and believe every word they say."
Annela smiled at the memory in spite of her watery eyes. Young men years her junior didn't appeal to her—their message did, however. Her father just didn't understand. Annela had known from the elders' first visit, when they spoke of Joseph Smith, that they spoke truth. At first she knew on a logical level. What they had taught made so much sense, answered so many of the questions her religion teachers in grade school had always brushed off.
"Why aren't there prophets anymore?" she had once asked.
"God doesn't work that way today," her teacher, Mr. Ahonen, had said. "Besides, we aren't supposed to wonder about such things." Her other teachers had given her variations on that response. Annela had almost given up asking questions when the missionaries came. The elders had hardly gotten any words out before she interrupted.
"Why aren't there prophets anymore?"
"Actually, there are," Elder Densley had said. He went on to explain the Apostasy and Restoration, and Annela found herself leaning forward as if she might miss a word if she didn't.
But that logical belief had turned into something much stronger. She had come to know in her heart that the missionaries' message was true, and the time to act on that knowledge had arrived. She couldn't put it off any longer, even if it meant leaving Tommi and postponing her master's degree studies, since she probably wouldn't have school money for at least a year now.
A pebble skittered across the rock and landed on the white sheet of ice below her feet. She looked over her shoulder to find the source, a man with blond hair and a dark blue coat approaching.
"Hey," he called. "I thought I'd find you here."
Tommi. Annela couldn't decide whether she was glad to see him. She should be, since she hadn't seen him for three weeks. And she usually welcomed his smile, especially at emotional times, but today was different. "How did you know I was here?"
"When I got home you weren't there. I called your cell phone. Then I tried your parents. Your mom said you had left ten minutes before. Since I could hear your dad booming in Swedish, I guessed that something had happened and you came here to escape." Annela's father was from Swedish stock, and that side came out during his tirades.
Tommi took a seat beside Annela and kissed her cheek. "It's good to be back. I've missed you."
"I've missed you too," Annela said. She leaned her head against his shoulder and looked across the frozen sea. It was a relief to know she didn't have to speak. She and Tommi felt no obligation to make small talk with each other. They gazed at the ocean inlet before them, encircled by land. There was only a small opening to the ocean. An island of rock and pine trees in the center blocked any view of the sea beyond.
"It's strange to think that this is really part of the ocean, isn't it?" Tommi said after a few minutes. "It looks like a lake, but it's part of the ocean, part of a greater whole." Annela nodded mechanically. Sometimes Tommi embarked on philosophical tangents, and while she often listened to them with interest, she didn't want to hear one now.
She had too much on her mind. She could still hear the echo of the apartment door slamming and the sound of her father's voice hollering in Swedish on the other side. Normally his outbursts embarrassed Annela unbearably. Most Finns never drew attention to themselves unless drunk. She too preferred to blend into the crowd—and succeeded except when Tommi's sheer lack of inhibition prevented it. Her father didn't require a drink to shed restraint like an old overcoat, although alcohol intensified his temper considerably.
Annela glanced at Tommi. His family was also from Swedish stock, and he must have inherited the accompanying temperament. Funny she hadn't. Part of her wished she had. It would make a lot of things easier to bear.
Tommi nudged her with his elbow. "So what's behind those tears?" Annela hadn't noticed that her cheeks were wet again. She made a swipe at them with the back of her hand, and Tommi patted her knee in reassurance. "Is your dad still upset that you're still seeing those 'American boys'?"
Annela nodded. "Yes, it's about the missionaries. But I wish you wouldn't call them that. It makes you sound like my dad."
"Oh, no. And we can't have that," Tommi said with an apologetic grin.
Tommi hadn't taken her investigation into the Church seriously, but then he hadn't been around to see most of it, either. Even so, such comments felt as if he were trying to undercut her. He removed his coat and put it around her shoulders, then reached for her hand.
"Maybe your dad just needs some time to cool off. Bringing up the missionaries and their book is probably not the best way to stay on his good side, you know. Just give him some space."
"It's not just the missionaries," Annela said with a shake of her head.
His eyebrows came together and he pulled back. "Then what is it?"
Annela licked her lips and paused before answering. "I've decided to get baptized."
Tommi let out the breath he had been holding. "Is that all? I thought maybe you really were going to dump me for one of the elders." He chuckled with a nervous edge to his voice.
Wondering how to explain what her decision meant without upsetting him too much, she looked away.
"Annela, " Tommi said, reaching for her. He turned her to face him. "What aren't you telling me?"
"I have to move out," Annela said bluntly.
Tommi's eyebrows furrowed. "But why? Things are going so well between us." He reached for her hands and held them between his own with a firm grip. "I know we haven't been living together that long, but I thought we were adjusting. What happened?"
"I decided to get baptized, that's what happened," Annela said, pulling her hands away. "I can't live with you anymore. Either I move out or we get married."
Tommi's jaw hardened. He looked away. "Oh, I see. You're trying to trap me into a commitment. I didn't see this coming. Let me guess, you're pregnant, too?" he said tonelessly.
Annela covered her face with her hands for a moment. "Tommi, you don't get it, do you? This is not about us. It's about—"
"It's about the missionaries. You do have it for one of them, don't you?"
"Tommi, please—" She hated this side of him, the unpredictable, moody one.
He cut her off. "I can't believe you'd let something so trivial like this come between us. I thought we had something really special. I thought there was a reason we found each other again after all those years. I was convinced it couldn't be a coincidence that my best friend from grade school just happened to come into the restaurant that day. What a fool I was."
He made a move to stand up, but Annela grabbed his arm and pulled him back down. "Please, Tommi. Listen for a minute. This is just as hard for me. But I know the elders' message is true. I know it. And now I have to do something about it." His face still looked blank, but she pressed on in hopes of finding some way to give him a glimmer of understanding. "It's as if—as if God let me see into His mind for just a moment, and now He expects me to act on that knowledge. If I don't, I'm running from Him. He has given me a gift, and I can't throw it back in His face." She searched Tommi's eyes for a sign of understanding, but found only hurt.
They sat in awkward silence for a moment until Tommi finally said, "So . . . when are you leaving?"
"As soon as I can. My father won't let me stay with them."
"So we aren't over?"
Annela smiled at him, grateful that he was coming around. "Of course not."
Tommi nodded. "Good." His arm slipped around her shoulders. He was only a few centimeters taller than Annela, so she had to slouch down to rest her head on his shoulder, but the closeness was reassuring. She closed her eyes. Tears came in earnest now, and she let them come. Tommi's embrace eased the loneliness, and she decided she was glad he had come. He held her close for some time without saying a word. She was grateful he didn't try to soothe her right now. He wouldn't have known the right thing to say and wouldn't have been able to say it with his heart if he did.
Annela's breath evened, and her eyes gradually dried. Tommi turned his head to look at her, sympathy on his face. She forced a smile. He wiped a tear from her cheek with his thumb.
"Your nose is red again."
She choked on a chuckle and covered her nose with both hands. Whenever she cried, it deepened to a dark red bordering on purple, swelled up three sizes, then stayed that way for hours. Tommi brushed a stray piece of hair from her face.
"I hate to see my girl hurting. It makes me miserable too."
She looked into his pale blue eyes and wished his words would ease the ache. He was trying so hard. Tommi leaned closer, and his lips parted ever so slightly. But instead of leaning in, Annela found herself pulling away, avoiding his kiss. She couldn't be romantic—not at a time like this.
Tommi pulled back, holding her out at arm's length. "What is it?"
"I'm sorry," she said helplessly, searching for an explanation which he wouldn't understand, because she didn't even know why she shied away. She groped for an answer. "It's just that I am feeling so many emotions right now, and there is no space left to feel anything more." It was a lame explanation, she knew, but it would have to suffice.
Tommi released his hold on her shoulders. "I didn't think kissing was against your new religion," he said with a bite in his voice. He knew as well as she did that baptism had nothing to do with her pulling away, but the comment still hurt. He stood and brushed off his jeans.
"Tommi, don't go. I'm sorry."
He avoided looking at her. "I'll be at the apartment."
Annela nodded and watched him walk away across the Elephant Rock, wishing she could call and bring him back. Wishing he could understand.